Lot 74
  • 74

Charles Burchfield 1893 - 1967

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • Charles Burchfield
  • Flower Garden and Pillar of Cloud
  • signed with the artist's monogrammed initials CEB and dated 1961-62 (lower right)
  • Watercolor on paper
  • 40 by 30 inches
  • 101.6 by 76.2 cm
  • Please note that in the print catalogue for this sale, this lot appears as number 74T.


Frank K.M. Rehn Galleries, New York
Dr. & Mrs. Martin Cherkasky, New York (and sold: Sotheby's, New York, June 1983, lot 205, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman


New York, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, Charles Burchfield Memorial Exhibition, Paintings and Drawings, March-April 1968


Joseph S. Trovato, Charles Burchfield: Catalogue of Paintings in Public and Private Collections, Utica, New York, 1970, no. 1254, p. 296


Please contact the American Art Department at (212) 606-7280 for the condition report for this lot.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Charles Burchfield spent his early childhood in the small rural town of Salem, Ohio—the place he later credited as essential to his artistic development. As a young boy, Burchfield enjoyed many afternoons exploring this bucolic environment: walking through the woods, noting the variety of trees and plants, listening to the sounds of insects and birds, and observing the changes in the seasons and the weather. He was fascinated by the natural world, and recorded his observations by writing in journals and drawing in sketchbooks. “I go to Nature when I want sincerity,” he noted in 1914. “In nature we not only find sincerity but also innocence. And when on all sides I am beset with palaver and artifice, and I feel the need of drawing a long breath, I ramble the fields” (Charles E. Burchfield, Journals, vol. 22, December 25, 1914, p. 56).

Burchfield executed Flower Garden and Pillar of Cloud between 1961 and 1962, by which time his mature and highly distinctive means of expression had fully developed. While studying at the Cleveland School of Art from 1912 to 1916, his interest in 19th century American art and literature exposed him to the essays of the naturalist John Burroughs, the travel journals of John Audubon and the transcendentalist writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Meville and John Ruskin. Their work all ultimately informed the powerful and dynamic view of nature that became the primary subject of Burchfield’s work. Indeed as early as 1917, Burchfield’s direct and faithful observations of the natural world evolved into a more stylized, abstract mode of expression, punctuated with symbolic representations. “[Burchfield’s] linear, often zigzag conventions of sounds from nature made visible the chirruping of crickets, the escalating buzz of cicadas, and the namesake song of katydids,” explains Nancy Weekly. “His process was synesthetic for the sounds suggested particular visual patterns...Using repetitive, lyrically geometric patterns, Burchfield animated his landscapes with forms that contrast the organic elements of his mise en scène” (Charles E. Burchfield: The Sacred Woods, Buffalo, New York, 1993, p. 37).

In Flower Garden and Pillar of Cloud, Burchfield reveals his sublime view of nature through the broad, repetitive brushstrokes of vibrant watercolor and the over-scaled forms of the clouds, trees and foliage that seem poised to engulf the houses in the distance and spill out of the picture plane itself. Although by the first decades of the 20th century watercolor had grown in popularity and was utilized by many of his contemporaries, such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper, Burchfield is unique in his almost exclusive use of the medium. “My preference for watercolor is a natural one,” he explained. “To paint in watercolor is as natural to me as using a pencil; whereas I always feel self-conscious when I use oil; I have to stop and think about how I am going to apply the paint to canvas, which is a detriment to complete freedom of expression” (Nancy Weekly, Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield, Los Angeles, California, 2009, p. 10).

Burchfield’s finely honed skill with watercolor is demonstrated in the present work as he varies the opacity of the medium from ethereally transparent to dense and heavily saturated to create a rich surface that further enhances the sense of dynamism emanating from the composition. The fluidity he achieves with watercolor imbues the composition with a strong sense of spontaneity and immediacy that suggests he has composed the scene from firsthand observation. As such, Burchfield presents the viewer with an unmediated, immersive experience of his particular vision of the natural world.